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Local home-based business makes, markets and sells its popular product

Small businesses are the backbone of a community. This is the story of one home-based small business.


Picture courtesy of George Everett of Mainstreet Uptown Butte

ButteNews.net
By Diane Larson 
 
According to the Small Business Administration (SBA) website, Apple Computer, Hershey’s, Mary Kay Cosmetics, and the Ford Motor Company all started as home-based businesses. 
 
In 2010, 27.9 million small businesses registered in the Census and 18,500 businesses with 500 employees or more registered. Fifty-two percent of those small businesses are home based. 
 
Inc.com, in the article, “Are Small businesses Really the Backbone of the Economy” by Jared Hecht, concludes that they are.  They have faced the challenges directly resulted from recession and are growing, albeit at a slower pace, because of that, he said, “Facts are facts, and small businesses are still the backbone of the U.S. economy.”
 
Across America the impact of buying local is having a positive effect on a community’s economy. A 2012 study by Civic Economics found that local businesses are known to have a “multiplier effect” on the community, meaning that every dollar spent at a local, independently owned business will stay in the community and generate a far greater economic value. The study concluded, “the findings have been unequivocal: independents bring substantial benefits to their local economies.” Butte is a community that thrives on small business and the Butte business atmosphere has a better competitive environment than community that is full of franchise and chain stores. 

 
Butte local small, home-based business
One such business in the Butte area is Montana Home Sprout. Montana Home Sprout has been in business since 2011. They sell a variety of products; the main product is a completely home-made bar soap. Currently, according to their Etsy page, there are over 20 different types and scents to choose from. They also have lotion bars, whipped oil, bath bombs and tub teas. 
 
Montana Home Sprout was started by the husband and wife team of Aaron Brown and Kimberley Trythall-Brown. “I started the whole thing,” says Aaron. He explained that he first became interested in making soap when his wife, Kim and their two kids, David and Alexis, were having serious skin dryness issues and he wanted to find a way to help them. “I have always been interested in doing things myself,” said Aaron so he researched how to make soap. He said that he wanted something that would work for the whole family. 
 
After his research, Aaron developed some formulas and made soap for the family. It worked so well for them that they began to branch out. A good friend of theirs used one of their soaps, the Castile, for her son who suffered from eczema with amazing results. From that point the word spread out to family and other friends. 
 
How they came to sell the soap
The next step was the Butte Farmers’ Market. They started at the market Kim said, because “I really wanted an excuse to do the farmers’ market.” She explained how much she enjoys the market because it is a place where you meet all sorts of people, you get to visit and enjoy your community. “The market is such a friendly place and it resonates with my friendly, happy personality. I love it,” said Kim. It just seemed the natural next step, was to take the soap to the market and see how it sold. 
 
Sell it, they did. Over a few short years, this business of making soap soon became a job for Kim. Kim explained that they have seen growth each year they have been in business. In 2016 their growth doubled from the beginning of the year to the end. When she first started making and selling her soap Kim said that she would only have to make it only during the winter months. For most soap makers that is the norm because the soap, once made, then needs to cure. Sales have turned the job of soap making to something she does year round. 
 
Kim’s soap isn’t just used in Butte; it travels. The market is a place where you meet people from all over the world. “Someone (from England) who had purchased the bathtub tea from my booth at the market when she was here posted on Facebook how much she liked it and that it made it safely across the pond,” said Kim. Tourists come to Butte from all over the globe. In the past year alone Kim said that her soap has also been in Africa, Ireland, and Australia. “Even my skeeter stick is a product that is selling all over the world,” said Kim. 
 
Starting and Growing the business
The name, Montana Home Sprout came out of the notions of natural and home spun products.  First, she said, “I wanted to incorporate Montana because I’m very proud of the fact that I was born and raised here.” Also, the idea of “Home Sprout I took from things growing and being nurtured at home.” I liked the idea of the sprout, “nurturing and growing a plant is like growing this business,” said Kim. 

 
The logo or brand that appears on these products is a cupped hand that is holding a bar of soap, and from the soap you see a sprout growing. It was created by Kim; it is her concept and her drawing. “Just the sprout growing out of the bar of soap in my hand says it is hand-made,” said Kim. She wanted something that expressed safe, wholesome, and hand-made. “I felt this logo signified all that,” Kim explained.
 
Montana Home Sprout sells on their Etsy site, the Farmer’s Markets in Butte, as well as other markets and craft fair/trade shows. Kim is particular which shows she does, they have to work for her and her product. Kim has gone the round of craft fairs and home-made product fairs and trade shows. She knows what will work and what will not. 
 
Kim also wholesales her product in Butte and surrounding areas. At the time of this interview, she explained her soaps and other products are in Hennessy Market, Chamber of Commerce in Butte, Butte Stuff, Muddy Creek Brewery, 5518 Designs, and the summer months they can be found in Wagner’s Nursery. Soon they will be headed to a tea shop in Wyoming.  
 
Kim says that they do very well at the farmer’s market. One of the reasons she believes that her product sells well at markets is the wonderful smells that waft in the air, and her display. She explained that it is a lot of work and takes quite a bit of time to set up her display, but she won’t change a thing. “I get a lot of compliments on my display, and I don’t want to change it because I think that is part of who I am to people,” said Kim. It draws people. They look for my booth, and it needs to be easily recognizable. “I have a lot of people that come from out of town just to come to my booth at the farmers’ market,” said Kim. 
 
What makes this successful?
Another reason Home Sprout enjoys success is the quality of product they use to make their soap. Their soap is 100% hand-made. They start completely from scratch. They do not use a melt and pour base. The three main ingredients are lard, lye and water. One thing that both Kim and Aaron wanted to make clear is that ‘soap’ cannot be made without lye. 
 
There seems to be a fear of lye, and a belief that it is bad. However, both Kim and Aaron have said that used properly, lye is harmless, and it is what makes the product soap. When fat and lye are combined in the correct amounts, a chemical reaction called saponification takes place. Kim said that, “Saponification is the process of making soap; it is mixing the acid with the alkaline that is the chemical reaction of making soap.” Aaron explained that if you don’t use lye, your product is not soap, it is detergent.  
 
On the Chagrin Valley Soap and Salve Company website they also tackle the question about lye in soap.  They say that when they are asked, do you use lye which is sodium hydroxide mixed with liquid, in your soap, they answer…of course, no lye…no soap.” They also say that any skin or hair cleansing product made without lye is not soap, it is detergent. 
 
Kim explained that our ancestors learned that when they cooked meat over an open fire the fat would drain off and fall into the ashes. The fat and ashes would then harden. Eventually they noticed that you could use that end product of hardened fat and ash for washing. Soap was born. 
 
Lastly, Kim believes that one reason her soap has seen the success it has is because the smell in her products have staying power. For example, the smell of the bar of soap Home Sprout sells, whether it is lilac or honey oat stays with the soap the entire time. She uses high quality oils and scents so that you can smell that until your soap is but a sliver in your hand. Kim feels that there is “nothing more disappointing than buying something for the aroma and the smell goes away after you use it.” The smell stays. “I think that really matters to people,” she says. 
 
Why this home-based business is sustainable
While Kim is the main soap maker and business operator, she says “this is a joint effort; I could not do this without Aaron.” All of the molds and cutters used in the making of her soap are hand-made by Aaron. If these had to be purchased that would drive up costs and make the venture more difficult. Kim explained that the type of cutters and molds used could be costly. “When you can do all this yourself your profit margin goes way up,” Kim explained.
 
Aaron also calculates all of the formulas for her soaps. Kim said that, “He spends a lot of time formulating recipes for me because he is the math guy.”
 
Another contributing factor to the success of Montana Home Sprout is simply the love of the work. Kim loves her product, and she is proud of it. Kim is the face and voice of her product. For this type of sales you need to be a person that people feel comfortable approaching. She is friendly and easy to approach; Kim says she is a people person. She used the following example to clarify, “we were at ‘Art in the Park’ in Anaconda. My dad and my husband were there with me. At one point I said I’m going to take a short break, and get something to drink. When I came back to the booth my dad told me that while I was gone no one even looked at the booth, they just all walked by. He said that ‘you are a magnet, you have a magnetic personality, and people are drawn to you.’” Kim said, “People are drawn to my booth, first because of the great smells, but also I am friendly and have an outgoing personality.” That personality is a part of her brand and a good reason for her continued success. She is welcoming, bubbly and honest. 
 
It is important to Kim that she is always honest about her product when questions are asked. “I don’t want to sell you something you might not like,” said Kim. If someone is concerned about the product because they may, for instance, have sensitive skin, Kim says that she will give them a free sample to try. For Kim it is imperative that you like what you buy and that it works for you. 
 
To insure this happens, Kim will do trials or case studies on new products. She recently came out with a “Skeeter Stick,” for, you guessed it mosquito repellent. For one solid season Kim said that she gave this product to family, friends and even some people she didn’t know and had them trial it for her. She wanted to make sure the results were good before offering it up for sale. “I’m not gonna put it on my table if I’m not proud of it,” said Kim. She went on to say, “I’m not gonna tell you something that isn’t true, I will be straightforward and honest, that is really important to me.” An example is the Skeeter Stick, “I tell people to double up,” Kim said, if you are concerned about disease from mosquitoes. 
 
Structure and staying motivated in a home-based business
Kim’s work day is structured around her family. “My kids come first,” Kim said. She explained she feels very blessed to be able to have a job that she can arrange around her family. “My kids know that I will be there for them at the drop of a hat and that is important,” she explained. “My family is where my heart is and they are first. I feel very blessed to be able to stay home with my kids,” said Kim. 
 
Kim calls the space where she makes her products, the soap shack. It is right out her front door.  Three days a week, as soon as David and Alexis are off to school, she will be in her ‘soap shack.’ Then when it is time to make dinner, she will drop it all and head back into the house. Summer months can be less structured, but it all works out in the end. 
 
Motivation can be an issue when you have a home based business. Kim says that sometimes it is a struggle to get busy. However, our ultimate goal is to have a business that will support the whole family. Having that goal in mind keeps me moving forward. 
 
While Aaron does help Kim, she is the main business operator. Aaron also works outside the home. A goal is that Montana Home Sprout turns into something eventually they can both do together. “We have always been able to work together, and work well together,” she said. Kim went on to explain that one motivator is that, “the business has had a good and steady growth so it feels that it is coming to fruition.”
 
Next: Make the brand
This past year Kim said that she was going to work on marketability. “I think I need to be more recognizable,” said Kim. To make that happen she worked with 5518 designs to create a brand that was the same across all her products and that was reflected in her business cards and labels. “I want to put it on paper, make it colorful, because that‘s important to me, and be recognizable,” she said. Being recognizable, for Kim, is the next important step for her. She used the example of Burt’s Bees. When you are in a store you can recognize that product long before you are close enough to read the label. She said, “I want people from far and wide to be able to see our booth at a distance and recognize us and know that we are there, we are friendly and they could come and say hello, and that we have a great product.”  
 
Kim said, “I put my heart in my soap.”
 
For her websites and more information on Montana Home Sprout:
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/MontanaHomeSprout/
Etsy:  https://www.etsy.com/shop/MontanaHomeSprout 

 The logo and photos of products and display are courtesy of Kimberley Trythall-Brown



Front Street mechanic passes the torch

Photo and story by Jim Larson
ButteNews.Net


Bruce Metcalf has sold Bruce’s Quick Lube and Car Care.

The new business is called Butte’s Best Quick Lube and Auto Repair.

The new owner is Kris Loomis, a master mechanic.

Loomis is an expert in all aspects of car care, noted Metcalf.

A new addition to the menu of services is air conditioning repair and maintenance. Not many shops in the area did air conditioning Loomis said, and he added that it required special equipment.

Air conditioning work was already coming in at a brisk pace, Metcalf said. He noted that Loomis was an expert in air conditioning. “He’ll keep everybody cool this summer, that’s one thing we never did,” Metcalf said.

Metcalf noted that he was turning 65. it was time that Uncle Sam helped with his lifestyle, he quipped.

He said that he had been looking for a buyer and that “Kris stepped up, and he was very interested in making this a better place.”

“It’s been a great place, great people in Butte, and I appreciate everybody’s patronage, and I’ll miss it, but not a lot. I’ll enjoy my retirement I assure you,”Metcalf joked.

Metcalf started the business in December of 1984.

Reflecting on the last 30 years, he noted that there had been “lots of ups and downs, lots of changes,” but now is was time to start another chapter of his life.

Metcalf said that Loomis would keep on all three of the shop’s current employees.

“Kris kept my old crew, and he’s taking off where I left off,” Metcalf said.

Loomis said that he had become tired of working for other people.

“I’m a master mechanic. I’ve been doing it for a long time. Time to step up to the plate, and do it myself,” he said.

When asked if he was going to do some fishing, Metcalf said, “You know, I don’t fish, but I love to get into the hills. I’ve got a cabin. I’ve been busy as a beaver. I don’t know when I had time to work.”

You can find Butte’s Best Quick Lube and Auto Repair at 1111 East Front Street.

 You can call them at 782-6124.

Redline’s had a fine year


Story and photo by Jim Larson
For the Butte Weekly




Things are right on track at Butte’s oldest snowmobile dealer. “We’re having a good year,” says owner Margie Fine.

Fine owns Redline Sports on Harrison Avenue, and her store carries all terrain vehicles and motorcycles as well as snow machines.

She attributes the dealership’s health in part to its longevity. “I’m a staple of Butte, I’ve been here the longest,” she says during an interview in her office at the store. Redline was established in 1962, and was Montana’s first Honda store, she says. The dealership carries Polaris and KTM as well.

 “The people of Butte love to play, and they are outdoors people,” Fine says.  Farmers and ranchers use her products too, she notes.

In addition to a strong market position, Redline has the personnel to take advantage of that high ground. Strong in sales, service and parts, the Redline staff has more than century’s combined experience. “My employees have been with me forever,” Fine says.  She attributes that loyalty to enjoying the lifestyle. “You have to have a love for it,” she says.

That enthusiasm apparently has to be instilled at an early age. “If you don’t start as a child, you don’t ride,” Fine says. Riding the vehicles that Redline sells is a family sport, she says. Customers pack a lunch and head out to enjoy the outdoors, she notes.

Keeping families safe is an important issue in Fine’s industry, and much of the Redline showroom displays safety equipment. In addition to a large inventory of safety gear, Redline offers classes in riding, maintenance, and avalanche preparedness. Fine notes wryly that the area hasn’t received much snow to go along with avalanche classes.

Weather is always an issue the owner says. She would prefer either sunshine or snow with nothing in between, she jokes.

One aspect of the business that weather doesn’t control is Redline’s loyalty program. Fine says that 300 of her customers take advantage of the program. Those who sign up receive notices about events, special offers and new models through email.

Find Redline Sports at 2050 Harrison Avenue. Call them at 782-9129. Find the online at redlinesports.com.

Butte’s Uptown jewelers adapt to thrive


by Jim Larson
ButteNews.Net

Upon first entering Butte Jewelers-Buffalo Gallery, visitors are greeted by the store’s chief of security, Buddy, a tiny black poodle. Clearance to enter is quickly granted as Buddy has a lot of shop to keep an eye on and a great deal of curiosity to satisfy.

Returning to store patrol, Buddy hands his guests off to owners Donna Hollingsworth, Bremer Hollingsworth and their son Shane Hollingsworth. Donna and Bremer opened the shop in 1988. Donna is a Carroll College graduate who worked in the lab at Saint James Hospital and now works part time at Mercury Street Medical.  Bremer worked as a machinist and then obtained an engineering degree at Montana Tech.  His welding skills proved useful when the couple opened Butte Jewelers. Shane attended Montana Tech for a year before turning his full attention to the family business, Donna said.

During a visit last Friday, Donna was kind enough to offer a tour of the business, an operation that fills an entire building at 53 West Broadway, a building that the family owns. 

In the front of the shop are jewelry cases that contain an inventory of considerable variety and quality. The store keeps up with what’s trending. “Colored diamonds are in, and we have a good selection of those,” Donna says.  Popular tungsten bands are in stock, as well as pieces of sterling silver that can be mixed and matched. Butte Jewelers also carries a large inventory of Montana rubies.  “We go to the shows and we stay up on things,” she says. Traditional items are represented as well, including a well-stocked pearl display.

The jewelers also carry a nice selection of mantle clocks, and there is an impressive display of watches, including a Butte Jewelers line. Quality watches with the Montana Tech logo can be purchased there as well, Donna points out.

Upstairs is the Buffalo Gallery, at one time a considerable source of income for the business.    The gallery sold new releases of first edition prints by artists such as Nancy Glazier, a prominent regional wildlife artist. That part of the business has become less important, and has been replaced by framing as the operation’s primary income. The Hollingsworth’s will be sprucing the gallery up for the upcoming Christmas stroll, Donna says.

That part of Butte Jewelry-Buffalo Gallery is operated primarily by Shane. In addition to framing art, Shane creates framed mementos of unusual quality. He incorporates the studio’s advanced engraving equipment and hot stamping capability into framed pieces that capture life events such as graduations and weddings in a unique way.

Bremer notes that a customer would have to travel to Seattle to find engraving equipment comparable to Butte Jewelers’. The store stocks a variety of engravable items. “We have a lot of gifty things,” Donna says.

As part of the upstairs tour, Donna shows a pole bed built by Shane. There are usually several on display, she notes, but they are in great demand, and only one was available to view Friday.

During the Friday visit Donna noted several times that she and Bremer were attempting to be “semi-retired,” but their business keeps them busy. Customers can even bring their knives in to be sharpened.   “We do whatever it takes,” explains Donna, a survival strategy that has kept Butte Jewelers in business for 25 years.

Passion for vintage clothing, costuming fuels Rediscoveries

 

8-28-13

By Robin Jordan

Brian Mogren, owner of Rediscoveries Vintage Clothing & Costume, 83 E. Park, said his interest in historical artifacts and collecting started at an early age.

“I began collecting when I was 12 years old,” Mogren said. “I grew up in Opportunity. My grandparents had lots of old things and one of our close neighbors collected glassware. I grew up with an interest in antiques.”

Mogren also developed an interest in theater during high school and participated in high school and in college. He said at one point, he even considered majoring in theater, but instead got his teaching degree at Western Montana College and taught for several years.

However, he continued his passion for antiques, especially vintage clothing. He said he began selling vintage clothing wholesale in the 1980s and began doing costuming for theatrical shows in 1985. In 1990, he opened his own vintage clothing store, Debris, at 123 N. Main in 1990.

Mogren said he moved the business to 55 W. Park in 1992 and opened Rediscoveries at its current location in 2000. He said the shop, which offers vintage clothing, a huge collection of hats, accessories, jewelry, toys and other items from bygone years, caters primarily to women. Although most of his stock is available for purchase, he offers costume rentals.

“Costume rental has become the main part of my business,” he said. He said he does a brisk rental business for Halloween and for other special occasions like proms or period dress balls like one held recently in Virginia City.

Summer has been busy for Mogren, he said. In addition to running Rediscoveries during Butte’s bustling festival and tourist season, he did all the costuming for and even performed in Butte Burlesque, the variety show staged in July by the Big Sky Repertory Theatre. Once that was through, he had to travel to other antique fairs and shows, including a vintage doll show. He said buying and selling at these regional events is a big part of his business.

Retail business has changed during the years he has been in Butte, Mogren said. Not only has the retail makeup of Uptown Butte changed, but customers have developed new shopping habits, such as buying on the internet. Mogren said if businesses are to succeed, they need to keep current on marketing ideas and how to best reach their target customers.

Keeping their doors open a bit later to take advantage of those customers who come Uptown in the evening hours to eat might help retailers in the district, he said. He said on days this summer he has stayed open later, a number of customers have taken the opportunity to shop during more convenient hours.

Mogren said he is optimistic about the future of retail in Uptown Butte. He said he chooses to stay in Uptown Butte, not because he has to, but because he believes in the potential of the district. He would like to see an open former for potential business owners to meet with current business owners so they could share experience and new ideas that could help the district grow.

“I think it’s great that we’ve seen big renovations like the Hennessy Market and Apartments, the Metals Bank building and the Hirbour Tower,” he said. “I’m hoping that the construction of the new General Operations building for NorthWestern Energy will encourage people interested in opening new businesses in the Uptown. If it brings some new businesses in, the NorthWestern building could be the spark that Uptown Butte has needed to finally turn the corner.”

Rediscoveries Vintage Clothing & Costume is open Monday 11:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m., Tuesday-Friday 11 a.m.-5 p.m. and Saturday 11 a.m.-4 p.m. For information, call 723-2176.     

 

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